Defecate on my shoes and I’ll pretend that I wanted you to: Zizek and the Phantasmic Field

As will soon become apparent to any reader, The Plague of Fantasies features a nearly endless repertoire of taboo references.  From pubic hair to soot-laden testicles, Zizek demonstrates an ultimately uncanny ability to draw Lacanian and psychoanalytic theory from the depths of banality, for, as can be seen, even the depth of a toilet bowl propels discourse.  And this, it seems, brings me to my next point.  Before I read this text, I considered the fantasy and phantasm as more of an illusory or physically insubstantial presence or entity.  In essence, what Zizek’s text propels, is a dramatic reconsideration of this approximation. 

In order to understand the fantasy as it is clearly substantiated in materiality, one need look no further than the second chapter.  As Mike alluded to in his post, jouissance as it emerges within a certain phantasmic field, seems to be the dominating force within the power relation.  In this chapter, Zizek provides, following in line with Lacan, that contemporary intellectuals can be divided into two sub-groups.  First, the “fool,” the deconstructivist cultural critic, intends to subvert the existing order, but actually serves as its “supplement.”  The fool experiences pleasure in snatching pieces of jouissance from the “master” (emphasis mine – 46).  The “knave,” quite divergently, is a title attributed to the right wing intellectual; the neoconservative advocate of the free market.  The rightwing knave rejects social solidarity as counterproductive sentimentalism, and is continually changing gender and racial specific concerns to issues of fate (46).  Note, even here, that the use of the term pieces is, I think, a deliberately materializing choice on Zizek’s behalf.  The phantasm and fantasy is something other than a spectral presence opposed to the very laws of physical behavior.  Instead, it is, as Zizek implies, a very material reality.  If, as Zizek argues, the phantasmic field, as it is associated with jouissance – loss that gives rise to pleasure – is an oppressing force, tan traversing one such field is an effort in subversion (48).  This, though, propels me to reconsider Foucault’s work on biopower.

Biopower, as Foucault suggests, creates suggestive channels of submission.  These channels guide one through the very physicality of existence without regard for material parameters.  Quite simply, the channel that Foucault describes is both physical and immaterial.  While it guides the physical body, it refuses any association with the physical confines of a particular control apparatus (i.e. school, prison).  Biopower is beyond the institution, the prison, or the control apparatus, more generally.  Interestingly, I feel as though Zizek is describing something very similar.  The choices that we make, as Zizek seems to be suggesting, are based on what he refers to as “fantasy’s transcendental schematism.”   We are taught both how to desire, and what to desire as it relates to intersubjectivity (the second issue that he addresses in the introduction).   Here, it seems that Zizek’s assessment of the controlling force is quite similar to that which Foucault describes in relationship to the channel.  In both descriptions there are immaterial matrices that guide physical action and physical desire.  This comparison is validated furthermore by considering of the issue of jouissance as it relates to the phantasmic field.

If jouissance, as discussed previously, emerges within a phantasmic field that must be traversed or resisted, than it must be considered more thoroughly.  As Zizek’s descriptions progress in the second chapter, it becomes clear that jouissance is that which cannot be integrated into one’s life.  Here another very complicating issue of materiality and immateriality arises.  Although Zizek initially describes jouissance as something very material (i.e. the desire for perverse sexual interaction), as the discourse continues it becomes more immaterial, or, more appropriately, jouissance becomes that which one is unable to materialize.  Jouissance is that which cannot be integrated into one’s life.  It is that which is always separated by a gulf; that which can be desired and not approached.  This, as Zizek explains, is an issue of decentrement (49).  Jouissance cannot be integrated.  Furthermore, it exists as what Zizek suggests is the “non-historical kernel” in the process of historicization.   So, if jouissance is that which refuses integration, it is also that which is immaterial to the individual that desires it, for one cannot approach it in the same way that one approaches other very physical objects (i.e. the toilet).   This though, brings up several complications.

If jouissance is both material and immaterial, both physical affecting and absent/distant, how might one traverse the phantasmic field?  Is this not the same issue that one faces with regard to the channel in Foucault’s work?  And, this brings me back to Mike’s discussion of the means of traversing the phantasmic field.  Here, Zizek’s suggestions seem reminiscent of some of Nietzsche’s work.  If the best means to resist the falsity of choice as a controlling force is to revel in that choice as truth, this presents striking parallels.  Though I haven’t had the opportunity to read much Nietzsche, I am reminded of previous discussions I’ve had with Pruchnic.  Perhaps, it would be appropriate to reference Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  If Zarathustra’s comment to the man outside of town is indicative of a mode of action, than if one is dissatisfied it might be best just to turn away.  I don’t know that this fits in exactly, but I can’t help considering it in relation to the arguments that Zizek presents.   Perhaps, a better reference would be the insistence that the best way to fight capitalism is to call for more capitalism.  If, in Zizek’s text, the best way to resist is to assume the false as true, is not this a similar step?


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